Working from home - tips and tricks
I know there are a ton of these posts like this going around so I’m going to try and make it a bit different. I’ve compiled some of the top ‘advise’ floating around Instagram and broken it down into small useful tips that you can easily apply to your day. As someone currently navigating this journey right along side with you, I’m hoping this can be a resource that helps you move the needle a little bit towards a more productive and satisfying day.
Before I get into it I want to make one thing clear, WFH is not easy. We are in a time of transition and navigating that is hard. As someone that works onsite collaboratively with clients every day, WFH has been a steep learning curve. We’ve lost a ton of momentum on our project. Things that typically take me 30 minutes are taking me 2+ hours. I’ve failed more times than I can count trying to facilitate workshops using different technology.
All in all, it’s been a huge struggle which means my days are longer than usual. I keep seeing all these posts about all the home projects people are accomplishing, books they are readings, to-do lists they are tackling and it makes me feel bad for just collapsing on the couch and watching Netflix at 10pm when I finally turn my computer off. If you are struggling to navigate WFH and you are finding you actually have less time than usual, just know you are not alone. I see you, I hear you and I’m struggling right along with you. We will get through this, we will find our groove and when we get back to our offices we will appreciate that this is our normal routine.
1. Create a dedicated work space
This was something I really struggled with, I live in a 900 square foot condo with my husband who is also currently working from home. Our options are a little limited. I don’t think a dedicated work space needs to be some huge production though, I’ve just been using my kitchen table with a few helpful strategies:
- Remove any clutter from the space before you begin – this way you can properly spread your work stuff out and aren’t unnecessarily confined. I also found it much easier to not distract myself if there was nothing unusual lying about.
- Only work in your work space – that means no eating, no browsing your phone, just working. This was actually something I started applying at the office because I was finding myself constantly distracted and it made the biggest difference. When you’re at your work space, focus on getting work done. Then if you need a break, snack, or anything else just get up and do it somewhere else. You’ll find that you start to associate your work space with work and it’s easy to get in the work flow.
- Follow the clean desk policy – again, this is something I stole from my office but it’s instrumental as someone living in a small space. At the end of the workday, pack your stuff up and put it away. You not only keep your area from getting unnecessarily cluttered but you’re also far more likely to shut down for the day. I don’t know about you but when I see my laptop sitting there I’m very tempted to just check 'a few things'.
2. Develop a morning routine
This doesn’t need to be a crazy the 3 hour morning routine your favourite influencer swears by where you run a marathon, read a novel and solve world hunger. It’s literally just something to help you wake up and get you in the mood to work. I like sticking as closely as I can to my usual morning routine when I go to the office.
- Set an alarm – yes it’s tempting to sleep right until 8:58am since your ‘commute’ to your 9am is walking to your kitchen but I promise you will not be as sharp or effective when you do that. Pick a consistent time to get up so you have enough time to do your morning routine and you’re prepped and ready to work. This also means you need to start going to bed on time, prioritizing your sleep is so important to keep that immune system functioning at it’s best.
- Make it realistic – if you aren’t a morning person, don’t plan something elaborate that you won’t enjoy following. Use this time to wake up the way you would like to. I keep it short, have a quick shower then sit down with my coffee and breakfast while I listen to a podcast. Takes me 45 minutes but I’m much more mentally ready for work once I’m done.
3. Schedule your time
This was the biggest advise that I kept seeing and the one that made me the most frustrated. I’m already a slave to my outlook calendar and have every minute of my day scheduled out, what more could I possibly do?! What I soon realized is that this actually meant scheduling my time in a more strategic way that aligned to my preferred WFH hours. At the office, I took for granted that everyone started around the same time, took a lunch break around the same time, and overall had a similar structure to their day. Now with everyone working on slightly different schedules I found myself needing to define what that meant for me instead of just being 'available' for all hours of the day.
- Start with scheduling your work hours – Pick a start and stop work time as well as some key breaks like lunch. Actually put these into your work calendar so meetings don’t get scheduled during this time. This helped keep me from the trap of just being available 16 hours a day since I was ‘home anyways’ and could be.
- Use time blocking – Again, this is something I try and do on a regular basis at work, so this is just a good reminder to continue. I think we’ve all heard the adage that multitasking is just doing many things poorly. I only really started understanding that recently and it’s made a huge difference in my productivity. I block times in my day where I’m productive (first thing in the morning for me) to work through my own tasks then times when I’m less productive (early afternoon for me) to schedule meetings and discussions. I also turned off my email alerts so I only go in and check/answer them between tasks. Such a game changer, I really encourage you to give that a try!
- Make a to-do list for things outside of your work day – If your full day is already scheduled, chances are you don’t want to start scheduling your off time too. Instead, I just jot down a quick list of the things I want to accomplish so that I know what to tackle once my workday ends.
4. Take a break
Breaks are something I don’t even think about when I’m at the office, people are constantly dropping by to ask questions, go for coffee or just chat. When you’re at home though these breaks are not as inherent and take some more intention. Without breaks, the day can seem long and daunting, a recipe for losing focus.
- Schedule breaks – honestly, they won’t happen if you don’t. I’m terrible for being constantly available and not prioritizing my own needs but the old adage of not being able to pour from an empty cup holds true. I usually find having a break to look forward to keeps me on track and focused. I like working for 50 minutes then taking a 10 minute break but play around with timing to find what works best for you.
- Get up from your work space – this builds off my tip earlier, to really keep that work space focused on work it’s important to relocate when you need a break. I like to move over to my couch and spend a few minutes stretching, checking my text messages and talking to my husband. If your break is a virtual coffee with a coworkers or friend, try taking it on your phone so you can walk around while you talk.
- Get in some movement – this is especially hard in the current climate, gyms aren’t open and going outside can seem a little scary. Getting that blood flowing though can really clear the mind and help increase your focus. I’ve been taking advantage of the stairs in my building but going for a walk is always a great option. I’ve also found a ton of home workout resources online, take advantage of trying something new you wouldn’t usually try. For me it’s been yoga, I’m glad to be home alone so no one is watching me struggle!
5. Connect with your coworkers outside of just work meetings
I’m a total introvert so the first few days at home I felt like I was thriving. This is the break from people I always wanted! While that is still true, I started to find work more challenging when I wasn’t also socializing and building a relationship with my colleagues. Meetings were more tense and no one seemed to be that productive.
- Schedule a virtual coffee – I started scheduling a 15-minute virtual coffee meeting each day with a different colleague using our video conferencing tool. It was not only a great break from work for me but my extroverted colleagues really appreciated it and I found their productivity went up. It was a great reminder for me that everyone on a team has different needs and making sure those need are met is key to keeping the overall team thriving.
- Start an informal chat – Another great way to stay connected with colleagues is to start a chat to share funny memes, have an accountability buddy for workouts and just share what’s going on. I like using Whatsapp or Microsoft Teams but the options are endless. Make sure it’s being used for non-work content though!
6. Create a plan for your food
A lot of are forced to meal plan and prep so we have all the food we need at the office with us. Now that we are at home, the tendency can be to just wing every meal but that’s a recipe for a day full of constant snacking.
- Create a list of meal ideas – at the beginning of the week, I sit down and brain storm a bunch of meal ideas for the week for breakfast, lunches and dinners. I like that it gives me flexibility to decide what I'm feeling like each day, but I know I will have the necessary ingredients on hand. It will also keep you from buying food that you don't end up using. This is also a great time to try some new fun recipes so make sure you slip a few of those into your meal ideas as well.
- Prepare a few staples - as someone that travels a lot for work, meal prepping usually looks like making all my food for the week on a Sunday. While that isn't as necessary now that I'm home, I still like to prep a few staples to make my work day lunches more of an assembly. This is helpful when I have a busy day and want to spend my lunch break relaxing vs. spending the whole time cooking. I focus on things that take longer to cook but keep well like meat and carb sources (potatos and rice). Then I can still cook my veggies fresh since those are quick and don't always last as well in the fridge.
- Keep a running inventory - Once I grocery shop and prep some staples, I make a list of everything I have on hand. During the week, I will cross items off the list as I use them. This is just as easy way for me to quickly know what is available for me to eat without having to rummage through cupboards and the fridge. For me this not only reduces food waste but really reduces my snacking. If I'm digging around in the cupboard while I'm hungry, I'm almost guaranteed to start nibbling on some tasty treats. Instead, by using my list, I'm going in with purpose to get an ingredient and do not get distracted but other items in there.
Some other fun ideas:
- Check out some fun playlists, I’ve been on a huge 90s/early 2000s kick. I like to take advantage of being able to sing and dance while I work as my coworkers typically frown on such behaviour.
- Bring the office home. My husband and I have created an elaborate conference room system (currently coming at you from conference room b aka the kitchen) and a room booking schedule. It’s something that it both funny and brings some normalcy to our day.
- Develop imaginary coworkers. I’m not crazy I swear, we’ve created this terrible co-worker named Becky that does annoying things. That way we can just say things like “Jesus Becky, stop leaving your freaking dishes everywhere. Does this look like your kitchen?!”. It’s funny and we can both laugh while also getting the message that the other person wants you to clean up. It’s much better than constantly knit picking at each other.
- Do the things that you wish you could when you’re at the office. I think we all have a few things we despise about going to the office. For me, it’s not being able to cook fresh meals so I’m making a point to do that as often as I can. I find it a big mood booster and something to allow me to appreciate the good parts about WFH. This will look different for everyone. Maybe for you it’s getting dressed up, sweatpants uniform anyone?
These are by no means an exhaustive list, but hopefully they are some actionable takeaways that can help this experience become a little more productive and enjoyable. Remember, we are all in this together so please share below any great tips you have to WFH successfully. You’re also welcome to share below your struggles because those are equally as important. Stay safe and healthy everyone!